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Rohingya kids in Myanmar: hard labor, bleak lives

October 15, 2013 • World News


In this Sept. 14, 2013 photo, a girl carries water jars as Muslim children stand close to a common water-well at May Maing village in Maungdaw, Rakhine state, Myanmar. In this corner of Myanmar tens of thousands of Rohingya children born out of wedlock are “blacklisted” and do not exist in the government’s eyes. They cannot go to public schools or get treatment in the state-run hospital without paying exorbitant bribes. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

MAUNGDAW, Myanmar (AP) — The 10-year-old struggles up the hill, carrying buckets filled with rocks. Though he tries to keep a brave face in front of his friends, his eyes brim with tears. Every inch of his body aches, he says, and he feels sick and dizzy from the weight.

“I hate it,” whispers Anwar Sardad. He has to help support his family, but he wishes there was a way other than working for the government construction agency.

He adds, “I wouldn’t have to live this life if I wasn’t a Muslim.”

The lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children like Anwar are growing more hopeless in Myanmar, even as the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million wins praise for ending decades of dictatorship.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is part of “Portraits of Change,” a yearlong series by The Associated Press examining how the opening of Myanmar after decades of military rule is — and is not — changing life in the long-isolated Southeast Asian country.

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The Muslim ethnic group has long suffered from discrimination that rights groups call among the worst in the world. But here in northern Rakhine state, home to 80 percent of the country’s 1 million Rohingya, it is more difficult now for children to get adequate education, food or medical care than it had been in the days of the junta. They have few options beyond hard labor, for a dollar a day.

The Associated Press’ visit to the area was a first for foreign reporters. Local officials responded with deep suspicion, bristling when Rohingya were interviewed. Police meetings were called, journalists were followed and people were intimidated after being interviewed, including children.

In a country torn by ethnic violence over the last 15 months, this is the one region where Muslim mobs killed Buddhists, rather than the other way around. And Login to read more

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